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US Secretary of State Pompeo blasts Turkey at NATO meeting

Published: Updated:

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his final NATO meeting this week to sharply criticize Turkey, saying its purchase of a Russian weapons system was “a gift” to Moscow, according to five diplomats and officials.

At the confidential foreign ministers’ video conference on Tuesday, Pompeo said Turkey was undermining NATO’s security and creating instability in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute with Greece and non-NATO member Cyprus over gas resources, said the diplomats and officials, who asked not to be named as the discussions were confidential.

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While the US and other NATO allies have long been odds over Turkey’s military intervention in Syria and Libya, Pompeo’s remarks underscored the depth of tensions at the Western alliance that many experts say dangerously weakens it.

This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)
This handout photograph released by the Turkish Defence Ministry on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel 'Oruc Reis' heading in the west of Antalya on the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP)

Pompeo, who leaves office in January as US President Donald Trump’s term ends, also told Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Turkey was wrong to send paid Syrian fighters to Libya, as the US Defense Department concluded in a report in July, and also to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.

That prompted further chiding of Turkey by allies in the meeting, including France, Greece and even tiny Luxembourg, as well as defiant counter-accusations from Cavusoglu, said the diplomats.

The meeting tone was described as “measured” but “more confrontational” than is usually the case at NATO.

The unity of NATO “was not possible if an ally copied Russian actions,” a diplomat cited French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as saying in his intervention, referring to Moscow’s fuelling of proxy wars by sending in mercenaries.

US President Donald Trump (L) speaks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the opening ceremony of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) speaks to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the opening ceremony of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, on July 11, 2018. (AFP)

A US official, speaking on background, said there had been a “frank, closed door discussion” but declined to give details.

“The US has urged Turkey on multiple occasions to resolve the S-400 (Russian weapons system) issue, cease using Syrian fighters in foreign conflicts, and cease provocative actions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the official said.

Turkey’s Cavusoglu said on Thursday he could not comment on a confidential meeting.

“I just outlined the differences between the two countries and outstanding issues, he told a public event. “We had to purchase (a weapons system) from Russia because we could not from our allies,” he added.

Turkish sources with knowledge of the meeting said that Pompeo made “unjust accusations” and that were was no united front against Turkey.

Turkey was also open to talks with Greece in the eastern Mediterranean with no preconditions, they said.

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